If you’ve never been to Playa del Carmen, you might not realize that the Mexican destination’s public beaches are totally unequipped and kinda, well, blah. And if you’re new to Los Cabos, on the Baja Peninsula, then perhaps you don’t know that very few of the region’s beaches are actually swimmable (blame strong currents and rough waves). Luckily, Oyster’s reporters have tested the waters at more than 400 beachfront hotels throughout Mexico, so we’re ready to tell you which ones are the best of the best. Take a look at the top beach hotels in the Yucatan (on the Gulf of Mexico), Riviera Maya (on the Caribbean Sea), and Riviera Nayarit and Baja California Sur (both on the Pacific Coast).
This stunning, all-suite luxury property in Puerto Morelos has 103 incredibly spacious rooms with huge balconies or patios. Though many have full kitchens, there is only one on-site restaurant, El Faro, which serves international and Mexican cuisine for breakfast, lunch, and dinner -- but the menu can get repetitive, especially for those on the all-inclusive plan. There are three beautiful pools, including one for children and one for adults that has a swim-up bar. The beach is superior to many in the area, with soft white sand, calm waters, and a lack of seaweed. The hotel offers free parking and Wi-Fi, and has an excellent on-site gym, but the tiny spa is a bit of a letdown.
There is nothing ordinary about the 260-room Le Blanc Spa Resort: Everything from the wine lists to your workout has been tailored to be top notch. It feels more South Beach chic than Cancun party, with a hip, gorgeous aesthetic throughout the entire pristine white property. The rooms are thoroughly modern and bright with minimalist decor and stunning ocean views(some with large Jacuzzi baths). But most of your time should be spent experiencing the top-of-the line spa, the chic restaurants (especially the stunningly designed Lumiere), and heavenly white-sand beach.
Located on one of Riviera Maya’s most coveted beaches, the ultra-luxurious Esencia oozes Mediterranean elegance and style. The former estate of an Italian duchess has a great location right on Xpu-Ha beach, a two-mile, postcard perfect stretch of white sand 20 minutes south of Playa del Carmen. There are a few hotels on the same beach but it is never crowded. Waters here are pretty calm and clear, and there is good snorkeling nearby. The beach has thatched huts with padded loungers, bar service, free use of towels, snorkeling equipment, and toys for kids.
The Grand Velas -- set on over 80 acres of mangroves that meet a postcard-perfect beach of white sand and turquoise waters-- is one of Riviera Maya’s most sophisticated properties. It features 491 top-notch suites spread out in three different buildings (two family-friendly, one adult-only), all with their own stunning pool complexes, gyms, and restaurants. The property is so huge guests will need to take a three-minute shuttle ride from the farthest building to the beach, but the hotel’s spotless service, outstanding food, luxurious spa, and wonderful amenities make it a great pick for discerning (and well-heeled) travelers.
The Four Seasons is one of the grande dames in Riviera Nayarit. It’s been around for over two decades, but still wows with its manicured grounds, elegant rooms, outstanding restaurants, and slew of activities both for adults and kids. Its location in exclusive Punta Mita means guests won’t get to experience much of the local culture, but the hotel is a short drive from quaint little villages full of Mexican flavor.
The five-pearl Banyan Tree Mayakoba -- directly on a wide white-sand beach -- is one of Playa del Carmen's most sought-after resorts. Set on beautiful beachfront grounds teeming with lush greenery, lagoons, and mangroves, the resort comprises 118 stylish villas complete with private pools set in lovely gardens and large, luxurious bathrooms with rainfall showers and outdoor bathtubs. The grounds also offer several public pools as well as a gorgeous stretch of white-sand beach, while an array of features includes a high-end spa, a plethora of outdoor activities (golf, tennis, snorkeling, and eco tours), and fantastic dining -- though food and drink are notably expensive.
Rosewood Mayakoba is a gorgeous, peaceful retreat within the resort community of Playa Del Carmen, set on a mile-long stretch of beach. Though it features an extensive children's program, the resort largely attracts couples with its serene atmosphere, upscale restaurants, and spa. The 128 suites feature attractive contemporary decor -- picture clean lines, white walls, and rich woods -- as well as high-tech amenities and private outdoor plunge pools. They have an open-air vibe, with many floor-to-ceiling windows, and the overwater lagoon suites have swim-up access. Plus, suites include freebies such as Wi-Fi, fresh fruit, and bottled water. Seaweed debris along the beach keeps the Rosewood from being flawless (although they diligently attempt to keep it clean by sending staffers to rake it away), but otherwise this hotel is top-notch -- for guests willing to pay top dollar.
This 307-room hacienda-style resort on a pristine stretch of beach in the Hotel Zone is one of the area's top all-inclusive luxury options for adults only. The stylish, colonial-style rooms all have balconies with phenomenal ocean views, which are also enjoyed from the whirlpool tubs. Food is excellent at the six restaurants, especially for an all-inclusive resort; the Mexican food at Maria Marie and Asian food at Asiana are particular favorites, and no reservations are required (except for the teppanyaki show and Chef's Plate). The sprawling, beachfront infinity pool is stunning, with a giant swim-up bar at its center. The spa and huge gym (complete with outdoor lap pool!) also impress, and there are plenty of fun activities, from the weekly foam party to tequila tastings to the live evening shows.
The luxurious 265-suite Grand Velas Riviera Nayarit sets the bar for what resorts in Nuevo Vallarta should be striving to achieve. Sweeping vistas, wide-open spaces, and luxury are the three primary offerings here, both in the wide-open gardens and grounds, and in the rooms themselves, with extensive renovations completed in 2015. There’s a three-level Infinity pool, spacious terraces for events, kid’s club and separate pool, and a decadent spa with treatment rooms. There’s also four international restaurants to choose from, although not everything is included in the all-inclusive plan.
This upscale 65-room boutique between Playa del Carmen and Puerto Morelos has a beautiful setting on a white-sand beach, amid a jungle preserve. Contemporary roomsare equipped with original artwork, furniture from the hotel’s own workshops, king bedsand either a terrace or a balcony. The great amenities on offer, including three pools, upscale dining, a wonderful spa, and a gorgeous beach, make this a solid pick, but prices are quite steep; other luxury resorts in the area may offer better value.
Located on the Riviera Maya, south of Cancun, the 412-room Secrets Maroma Beach Riviera Cancun is a romantic, adults-only all-inclusive resort. The soft, white-sand beach is an oceanside haven, with non-motorized water sports -- including windsurfing, ocean kayaking, and snorkeling -- available right on the sand. The beach is lined with palapas and sunbeds, and there is a bar with adult-sized swings for guests to enjoy along with their cocktail of choice. Beachside massages are offered, and private cabanas with Balinese beds suspended on ropes are available for rental. Some of these cabanas even have treehouse-type roof terraces with sunbeds on top.
With only 90 suites, the Zoetry Paraiso offers a romantic, wellness-centric boutique experience in the Mayan Riviera. The unique layouts of the suites offers different experiences to guests, including Terrace Suites with small bath-side indoor gardens, and Plunge Pool Suites with small personal outdoor pools. Even though warm, Mediterranean style is a bit different in each room type, all are spacious with comfortable furnishings and Bulgari toiletries. Some tube TVs are begging for an update, however. The pool area and beach are relaxed with double-wide lounge chairs (perfect for couples), and the on-site dining keeps the resort's wellness theme alive with delicious, healthy meals. Included amenities not standard at most all-inclusive resorts, such as a "welcome" bottle of tequila, daily bottle of champagne, a one-hour Catamaran sunset sail, three-times-daily maid service, and private chauffeured airport transfers, make this resort a standout among Puerto Morelos' finest properties (though expect the price to reflect that).
This part of Mexico is flush with scenic, yet unswimmable beaches, making the beach at the ultra-luxurious 160-room One&Only is a rare gem. It's not huge, and has just a few private cabanas that are available on a first-come-first-served basis, but the rocky backdrop and relatively calm water are a welcome treat. Snorkel gear and non-motorized beach equipment are available for free, and surf lessons can be arranged. For those who don't want to splash in the surf, there are two pools, including the family-friendly Agua pool, which has shallower areas for kids and is conveniently located next to Agua bar. The adult pool, which is closer to the resort's main terraces, has a swim-up bar, hot tub, plenty of lounge chairs, and stunning views out to sea. Poolside drink service, neck and knee pillows, and free 10-minute foot massages are on offer as well.
The 310-room Iberostar Grand Hotel Paraiso is a Las Vegas-style, adult-only resort on the Riviera Maya. The luxury all-inclusive is part of the five-hotel Iberostar complex, and guests at this hotel may use the amenities at all five properties, some of which are family-friendly. The high-end experience starts with champagne upon arrival, and continues with premium liquor, fine dining, a full-service spa, and several pools, including one dedicated to tranquil relaxation, and canoes, catamarans, and jet skis available on the beach. The opulent decor incorporates marble and mosaic floors, glass chandeliers, modern artwork, and artisan-crafted furnishings. The lush, landscaped grounds complete the picture. Rooms are large and upscale, with jetted tubs, glass shower stalls, and personalized minibars.
Blue Diamond Riviera Maya by BlueBay is an excellent option for couples looking for a more intimate and luxurious all-inclusive option outside of the hustle of Cancun. The property is spread out over gorgeous grounds that are partially manicured and artistic and partially jungle-like and wild so the overall ambiance is natural and feels almost isolated. No kids allowed means the two swimming pools, sandy beach, and plethora of restaurants are generally quiet and relaxing. Adult-friendly facilities include a sleek spa (free access to use the steam room and pool), cigar lounge, and one of the best equipped gyms in Mexico. Suites and casitas come standard with private outdoor bathtubs and minibars stocked with free drinks.
This small, service-oriented beachfront boutique has a quiet spot on the southern end of the Hotel Zone that remains in walking distance to restaurants, bars, and shops. The mid-range Encantada is strongly focused on preserving and sharing local culture: Its restaurant serves authentic regional dishes; its bar pours local craft brews and liquors and hosts local music nights; and the property uses regional artisanal goods throughout. The eight spacious, eco-friendly guest rooms have no air-conditioning or TVs, but they do have fans and private furnished terraces.
Guests can step right out onto the sand from the ground-floor units at this 20-room, adult-only hotel in the heart of the Hotel Zone. The beachfront restaurant, Ziggy's, has great food (and a generous free breakfast with fresh juice and smoothies), and the small size allows for lots of personalized attention from the staff. Charming rooms combine rustic and modern elements, and all have ample outdoor space and ocean views. Property features are impressive for a boutique, and include a pretty, meandering pool, outdoor whirlpool, and daily yoga classes. Free Wi-Fi and parking add to the value, although year-round mosquitos can be an issue. This is one of the best options at this price point.
The 291-room luxury Secrets Capri Riviera Cancun is an adults-only, all-inclusive resort located halfway between Cancun and Playa del Carmen. Rooms are of moderate size, with elegant decor that includes four-poster canopy beds, furnished balconies or terraces, and jetted tubs. Guests at this outpost of the Secrets chain are granted Preferred status, with additional amenities and privileges that include premium liquor, concierge service in rooms, on the beach, and by the pool, free Wi-Fi, and free international calls. The property is stylish and upscale and resembles a Mediterranean villa, with lots of terraces, wrought iron, and marble. The spa has a full menu of treatments, including fish pedicures. On-site activities include water sports, games, language lessons, and beer tastings. The location in between two major cities makes it convenient for guests with a car, but there's nothing of interest within walking-distance.
Tucked away along the Sea of Cortez near Baja's capital is this 115-room luxurious (and yet affordable) resort with panoramic views in all directions. Amenities run rampant with three pools, access to La Paz Beach, an 18-hole golf course, a private marina, and a spa. If that's not enough, there's tennis, a yoga deck, and free use of non-motorized water sports (though the selection is limited). Rooms have slightly exposed walk-in showers and masculine decor, but guests can step out onto balconies for cheery vantage points. Open-air restaurants -- like Steinbeck’s, which boasts a boggling number of tequilas, and the Beach Club for stellar sunsets -- serve quality decor. The resort often hosts weddings, corporate groups, and romantic weekenders -- meaning it might not be the best pick for some families.
Almost all of the 26 rooms at the rustic-chic Alau have beachfront access and views. The upper-middle-range property -- which has hosted the likes of Richard Branson -- blends a tropical beach experience with an eco-lodge atmosphere, and there is a heavy focus on minimizing its ecological impact on the surrounding environment. The rooms have outdoor space and most have great ocean views, but the entry-level Bali Huts really are little more than huts with beds (and no AC). There are daily yoga and windsurfing classes on the beach, bike rentals, and two attached restaurants, plus pets can roam freely. Free Wi-Fi and parking add to the value, although year-round mosquitos and limited cellular reception are issues.